I think UCLA is one of those teams this season.
The most common prognostication for UCLA heading into the season is anywhere from 4-8 to 6-6, and with a conference record of 2-7 to 4-5.
And it's completely understandable. Most prognosticators look at the program and don't see how it could improve much from last season, given the loss of guys like Brian Price and Alterraun Verner, and see a tougher schedule.
What they're not really taking into account is the overall talent that UCLA has brought in under Rick Neuheisel for three recruiting seasons. It's still on the youngish side, but there is a significant upgrade in the team's overall talent level and depth. And quite simply, UCLA has the best set of offensive skill players that it's had in a very long time.
Most prognosticators don't know programs well enough, or have the time to know them all well enough, to be able to consider these types of factors. They generally look at last season, who the program has coming back as starters, and their schedule. It would be far too tough to predict what programs could possibly jump up and go beyond expectation; it would demand far too much research and, frankly, it's a crapshoot and not a safe bet, not the kind of thing that prognosticators generally want to do and risk their reputation.
But that's what we're going to do this season.
In our overall season prediction, we said UCLA would go 8-4 on the season, which is far beyond what any prognosticators (outside of the BRO premium message board) have said.
In going 8-4, the Bruins would then, it follows, have a good Pac-10 conference season.
UCLA finishing higher in BRO's Pac-10 prediction than in others, well, could have an element of homerism, as we've admitted to this season. But it also is based not only on believing UCLA will be one of the surprise teams of the conference, but also that there will be some teams that under-perform considerably compared to their widely accepted pre-season evaluations.
I am a closet Cal fan, as I've confessed to before, but I think they're a team that's going to struggle this season. Their defense was ranked 72nd in the nation last season and, while they have some talent, they're going to be on the youngish and inexperienced side. And I don't see them improving their passing game much, which was what limited their offense last season.
Stanford is getting some hype, and they are definitely a program that continues to improve. But improvement sometimes can be an up-and-down type of thing, and this might be a step-back season before more steps up. They have perhaps the best fairly unknown quarterback in the country in Andrew Luck, and that will carry them, but replacing Toby Gerhart isn't an easy task, and the Cardinal's defense, ranked 90th in the nation last season, will need some new players to step up. They very well could (it might be a case where I don't know the program well enough to be able to anticipate it), but generally the predictions that have Stanford going 8-4 and 5-4 in the conference, I think, are over-inflated.
UCLA has just as good a chance as Stanford to post those same numbers, if not better.
Coming off an 8-5 season, the popular pick in the Pac-10 is Oregon State and, with running back Jacquizz Rodgers, you can understand. I think Oregon State is going to be good, since they have a great deal of experience, but not the type of team that gets 9 wins and 6 or 7 in the conference, like some have predicted.
And then, of course, as I said in the season preview, I believe USC is going to experience a tough season. They'll probably start off 5-0, and many will be saying that probation season #1 didn't faze them, but by the time they get to the end of November they'll have to play at Arizona, at Oregon State, Notre Dame and at UCLA, with Oregon at the Coliseum just two weeks before that. I think USC, given everything going against it this season, won't have the stamina to hang in, and drop four conference games. If they lose even one game between the two at Stanford October 9th and California October 30th, it's going to be very tough for them to avoid a four-loss conference season.
So, here's the conference prediction, in order:
1. Oregon, 8-1
2. Arizona, 7-2
3. UCLA, 6-3
4. USC, 5-4
4. Oregon State, 5-4
6. Cal, 4-5
6. Stanford, 4-5
8. Washington, 3-6
9. Arizona State, 2-7
10. Washington State, 1-8
Oregon, even without Masoli, is very talented. They could have competed for a national championship with him, but they'll be good enough to win a Pac-10 that really doesn't have another clearly superior team.
We're going out a bit on another limb with Arizona, but the Wildcat offense is a scary one, and it returns virtually intact.
Again, though, it's truly a wide-open Pac-10 race. There is one team, Oregon, that looks to be significantly better than every one else in the conference, but then there isn't much separating the next six or seven. Arizona, UCLA, USC, Cal, Oregon State, Stanford and Washington could truly finish in just about any order.
It will probably make for a very entertaining Pac-10 season.